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Under the new playoff format, both the Calumet Copper Kings and Houghton Gremlins sat waiting for Wednesday’s Division 3 Region 17 title game for six days. The Copper Kings started the game slowly, but built their way to a crescendo, scoring four times in the second period en route to a 5-1 victory at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena.
“Our second periods have been our best periods all year long,” said Calumet coach Dan Giachino. “It seemed like tonight there was a lot of feeling out in the first period; lots, lots of whistles, lots of safe plays. Message to the boys was that we just have to flip it a little bit and get our energy level up.
“We started circling and circling just a matter of time before that dam broke loose and fortunately it did.”
It was Calumet’s first regional title since 2017, where they made it to the state final before losing to Warren de la Salle.
Calumet, who fired 14 shots at Pietila in the first period, but could not find the back of the net, kept the pressure on early in the second, and were rewarded when a rare Gremlins’ defensive error opened goaltender Jimmy Pietila up.
Senior winger Alex Mattila, who scored two goals on the night, came crashing down the right side of the slot on a odd-man rush before firing a shot that got past a diving Houghton blueliner, but not Pietila. No more than 10 seconds later, the puck ended up out in front of Pietila. A Gremlins’ forward attempted to clear it from the slot, but he instead cleared it right at Pietila, who made the save. The rebound bounced to Mattila, who buried it at 2:19.
“Our line was working well in the second period,” said Copper Kings center Tanner Rowe. “We finally found the back of the net and then it just had just kept on going in. It was just good. It felt like everything was going.
“I think we are just working as a line and just moving the puck, making the simple plays, then just getting shots on net.”
Four minutes later, Mattila’s line was at it again in the offensive zone as they pinned the Gremlins, who beat the Copper Kings in their most recent meeting on Feb. 18, in the left corner. Mattila got the puck out to Rowe, who fired a shot that Pietila stopped. The rebound kicked to Mattila, who pushed it back out to Rowe, who fired a one-timer that Pietila kicked away.
“That’s a very good team over there,” said Gremlins coach Corey Markham. “They smelled blood and they were flying. If it wasn’t for Jimmy, that would have been a mercy rule-game. He was phenomenal.”
Calumet continued to keep the pressure on the Gremlins’ defense until they drew their second power play of the night. During the advantage, they found a way to take advantage of Houghton on the rush.
Mattila skated down the left boards while waiting for captain Scott Loukus to get positioned coming off the bench. Once Loukus was ready, Mattila hit him with a pass. Loukus waited for his cousin Dean Loukus, who drove hard to the crease. He hit Dean with just enough time for a quick shot into the net at 10:11.
Calumet just kept attacking, and were rewarded again at 13:13. After sustained pressure in the left corner, Mattila moved the puck below the goal line to Rowe and then sprinted to the front of the net. Rowe tried to feed the puck back, but it instead snuck into Pietila’s leg pads. As Pietila tried to position himself for a one-timer from Mattila, he inadvertently knocked the puck into his own net, giving the Copper Kings a 3-1 lead.
Recognising that Houghton was still back on their heels, the Copper Kings continued to press. They were rewarded for their efforts again at 15:11 when Rowe chased down a feed from Coppo while driving down the left side of the slot. With a Houghton defender sprawling out, trying to take the passing lane away, Rowe managed to get the puck over to Mattila, who was crashing on the back side of the slot. Mattila fired a wrist shot that beat Pietila for the tally.
Neither team looked sharp in the early going. Houghton iced the puck three times in the first minute. When they finally carried the puck into the offensive zone, Calumet struggled to get it out. In fact, it felt like the only two players ready in time for the opening faceoff were goaltenders Alex Studebaker of the Copper Kings and Pietila.
Pietila was tested first, making routine saves on long shots from the Copper Kings like the one from senior defenseman Cam Kauppinen, who got the puck at the right point. Kauppinen’s shot appeared to be slated to sail wide of the net, but Pietila snatched it out of the air to make sure it did not cause trouble for him later at 3:27.
Just 42 seconds later, however, Studebaker was not as steady on his first quality scoring chance.
The Copper Kings established their offensive zone presence and eventually moved the puck back to the left point where senior defenseman Hunter Rowe prepared to fire a wrist shot. His shot was blocked by Gremlins assistant captain Niko Rajala, who snagged the loose puck and split the two Copper Kings’ defenders, and skated into the slot before beating Studebaker with a wrist shot at 4:09.
“(The goal) was big,” said Markham. “We got a lead, but we were on our heels most of the first period. We just did not skate tonight. We did not compete like we usually compete.”
Looking to keep pushing the pace of the game, the Copper Kings did so early in the third, drawing their third power play of the night less than three minutes in. It did not take long for the Loukus cousins to strike.
Picking up the puck in the neutral zone, Dean Loukus drove down the right side of the slot, running out of room before getting to the net. After driving hard around the back of the net, he quickly fed the puck back out front to a place where Scott Loukus could get to it. Scott made a quick move to his forehand and beat Pietila with a wrist shot at 3:52.
Houghton 1 0 0 — 1
Calumet 0 4 1 — 5
First Period–1, HHS, N. Rajala, 4:09.
Second Period–2, CLK, Mattila (T. Rowe, G. Coppo), 2:19. 3, CLK, D. Loukus (S. Loukus, Mattila), 10:11, pp. 4, CLK, Rowe (Mattila, Coppo), 13:13. 5, CLK, Mattila (Rowe, Coppo), 15:11.
Third Period–6, CLK, S. Loukus (D. Loukus), 3:52, pp.
Saves–HHS, Pietila 14-12-8–34. CLK, Studebaker 2-5-6–13.
Power-play Opportunities–HHS 0 of 3. CLK 2 of 5
Penalties-minutes–HHS 5-10. CLK 3-6